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Sophia Glock divulges her secretive life as a child of CIA officers in 'Passport'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Adolescence - it's rough. You don't know where you fit into this world. It's hard to make friends. You worry about boys and girls and parties, your safety, your future. And you realize that your parents - God bless them - aren't the people you thought they were. That's even before you find out they work for the - well, let's just keep that agency confidential for the moment.

The last part, at least, is true for the narrator of "Passport," a graphic memoir for young readers by Sophia Glock and based on her own true story. She joins us now from Austin. Thanks so much for being with us.

SOPHIA GLOCK: Thank you so much for having me. This is quite a thrill.

SIMON: Well, and let's explain. Your parents worked for the CIA. They were intelligence officers. You moved around to six different countries, which seems to be - book seems to be mostly set in Central America. Is that fair to say?

GLOCK: Yes. I grew up across Europe and Latin America in general, and the book takes place in an unspecified Central American country.

SIMON: And moving around so much, did you always feel like an American or an American in exile? What was that like?

GLOCK: Oh, I definitely always felt very American. It was so central to what made us different. Even if I was in a international setting, you know, everybody sort of related to their country of origin, even if they had not originated there technically.

SIMON: But what did your mother tell you to say if anybody asked?

GLOCK: You know, I could talk about being an American because that was an obvious fact about me, perhaps. But we were taught from a very early age how to deflect and demur questions that got too pointed. But it really helped that we were kept in the dark, especially as small children.

SIMON: Well, tell us about this quality that is called deflection. What did that mean? Or are you going to deflect that question?

GLOCK: (Laughter) No. It's a really useful skill. You just ask questions back. Most people are pretty much interested in themselves and happy to (laughter) - and happy to talk about things that they can talk about. So...

SIMON: Yeah.

GLOCK: ...Being vague and broad and then sort of shifting the focus of the conversation. And usually you can do that with a pretty pointed question in the direction that you would like the conversation to go.

SIMON: So if somebody - if one of your friends would say something like, do you like Coca-Cola, you would say, do you like Coca-Cola? What's your favorite soft drink?

GLOCK: Who doesn't like Coca-Cola? What do you like the most? You know, in fact, even later in life, a good example would be, you know, people would ask specific about my parents' careers because it was obvious that I'd grown up overseas. It would come up. And they'd be like, yeah, but what did they do? And I'd pretend to be ignorant. I'd be like...

SIMON: Yeah.

GLOCK: ...Who understands what their parents do? You know, what they did was so boring, you know?

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah.

GLOCK: Oh, so boring and dry - government stuff, you know? And then you just move on.

SIMON: Well, and with respect and even love that can develop by reading this book for your parents, is that a healthy thing for you to - for someone to teach their children?

GLOCK: Not necessarily. There were some things that we were taught by the nature of their work that I think are useful social skills. I think that there's a cost to living a secret life. I think there's an emotional cost and a social cost. I think my parents paid that cost, and me and my brothers and sisters paid it to a certain extent. But, you know, we were never asked to follow in their footsteps. And - you know, and ultimately, they asked me to keep a secret my whole life, and in my adulthood, they allowed me to tell the secret. If it's unhealthy, it was out of necessity. And I think those are choices that probably every family makes to a certain extent.

SIMON: At the heart of the story, of course, an older sister who leaves to go to school in America. How does that affect the younger sister?

GLOCK: I adored my sister. And she was sent away actually quite young. And a lot of it was simply jealousy because she had freedom. And my parents took us all over the world, so they gave us something huge and broad in that way.

SIMON: Yeah.

GLOCK: But we also led a very secluded, isolated, constrained life. There were concerns about safety. There were concerns about, you know, controlling information and controlling their children in environments that they did not feel fully in control of. So to watch my sister go back to the states and experience what I saw as freedom from this lifestyle, that was very heady.

SIMON: Do you resent your parents for deceiving you?

GLOCK: Absolutely not, actually. They were working on something that was bigger than our family and bigger than themselves. They modeled something else in their deception, which was a life in service to something that they truly believed in. And that ultimately is more powerful than the fact that they had to keep their kids in the dark.

SIMON: And how did you find comics as your form of expression?

GLOCK: Like most people, I grew up reading the funnies and "Calvin And Hobbes" and all sorts of comics. But they sort of came into the forefront, and I realized that it might actually be the thing that motivated my whole artistic experience. When I was a 12-year-old, I started reading "X-Men" comics. And I was very into superheroes until I began to sort of, like, be dissatisfied with the tropes of superhero comics - especially in the '90s, were not written for young women. They were written for adult men, even though they were ostensibly kid lit, right? So then I discovered that there was this whole world of independent comics and comics about everything, and that sort of became my mission in life was just to write comics. I found it to be the most exciting medium of self-expression.

SIMON: I mean, it's kind of hard not to observe that you went from a life in the shadows to writing graphic.

GLOCK: Yes. Yeah (laughter). That is the appeal of comics. And graphic is such a great term for comics because they are so visceral. They are so tactile. There is so much texture in them. And in this sense, I think, actually, comics were perfect for a memoir about adolescence because everything when we're adolescents is visceral and immediate. So I felt it was a good match.

SIMON: Sophia Glock - her new graphic memoir for young readers is "Passport." Thanks so much for being with us.

GLOCK: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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